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How to Win an MSPB Appeal (And What to Avoid Doing)

Thousands of federal employees file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) each year. Over the past three years, only 3% of federal employees were successful. The success rate increases to 18% if you eliminate cases that settle before going to a hearing and those dismissed for procedural errors.  Below are some tips on how to win an MSPB appeal, but first you should understand how the appeal process works. What Is an MSPB Appeal? If a federal employee is subject to a major adverse action by a federal agency, such as demotion, suspension of 15 days or more, or removal, he or she can generally appeal to the MSPB (note that certain agencies and/or positions are not eligible for MSPB appeals, such as a Title 38 employee at the VA). The MSPB is a quasi-judicial federal agency. Its duties include resolving certain employment-related disputes between federal agencies and their employees.  What Is the MSPB Appeal Process? An appeal is appropriate only after the agency notifies the employee of the proposed action, the employee responds verbally or in writing in an attempt to mitigate, if desired, and then the adverse action is subsequently sustained against the employee.  Jurisdiction  Before filing an appeal, the employee must determine whether the MSPB has jurisdiction over the action and the employee filing the appeal.  The MSPB has jurisdiction to hear an appeal involving the following actions, but includes others as well: Performance-based actions, Reductions in grade or pay, Denial of within-grade pay increase, Suspensions for more than 14 days, Furloughs for 30 days or less, Denials of restoration or reemployment, Suitability actions, Reduction in force, and Misconduct actions. The MSPB will hear discrimination cases only if they are in connection with an action otherwise within MSPB’s jurisdiction. Some appeals will be heard only after you exhaust the procedures of another governing agency, such as veteran’s employment and whistleblower retaliation claims. Federal employees eligible to file an MSPB appeal include: Competitive service employees who have completed a probationary period; Employees in the excepted service, other than preference-eligible employees, with at least two years continuous service in the same or similar position; Preference-eligible employees with one year of continuous employment in the same or similar position; and Postal Service supervisors, managers, and employees engaged in personnel work with one year continuous service in the same or similar position. An MSPB attorney can help determine your eligibility to file an appeal. Filing the Appeal Timing Typically, you must file your appeal within 30 calendar days of the date of the action or within 30 days after receiving the agency’s decision, whichever is later. There are exceptions however, such as actions taken by the VA under 38 USC §714, which have a reduced deadline of 10 business days to file the appeal. If the appellant and agency mutually agree in writing, prior to the timely filing of an appeal, to use an alternative dispute resolution process, the time limit for filing the appeal is 60 days.  Format The format and contents of your appeal must meet all the MSPB’s requirements. To ensure you do this, the MSPB provides an approved form if you wish to submit your claim in writing, or you can submit your appeal online through e-Appeal Online. Hearing The MSPB will assign an administrative law judge (ALJ) to your case, who will request additional information and responses from you and the agency. The ALJ will address settlement as well, which may involve the MSPB’s MAP program. If the case does not settle previously, a hearing will take place to allow the parties and witnesses to testify. The ALJ will issue an initial decision, which becomes final 35 days later, unless a party petitions for review to the MSPB’s appellate division, known as the “Board”. Further appeal If you are dissatisfied with the ALJ’s initial decision, you may either file a petition for review to the Board or typically with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Your appeal to the federal courts must be done within 60 days of the Board’s decision.  How to Win an MSPB Appeal? The MSPB says the most common reasons as to why employees lose their cases is because they fail to bring forth a proper case by misinterpreting the law or not providing important evidence. Here are some tips on what to do (and what not to do) to increase your chances of winning an MSPB appeal.  Request All Material Used By the Agency When an agency takes an adverse action against you, you have the right to review the material it relied on to make the decision. You should exercise this right and obtain all the material to build a strong case against the agency. To create a well-crafted argument, you need to know what information was used against you.  File on Time Timeliness of filing your appeal is of utmost importance. Do not miss the filing deadline Generally, you have 30 days from the date the action is taken against you to file your appeal. Although the MSPB may excuse late filing if you have a good reason and provide supporting documentation, this rarely happens. The MSPB processes thousands of cases each year, and it is incredibly strict about deadlines. Remember, your initial appeal form only needs to include the basics, such as the facts and legal issues of your case. The ALJ will request additional information after you file. The important thing is to get the appeal in on time. Do not file too early You can only file your appeal after the effective date of the action against you or after the agency issues a final decision regarding your performance or conduct.  File a Complete and Proper Form File with the correct regional or field office. You must file your written appeal with the MSPB’s regional or field office where your duty station is located at the time the action took place. From time to time the jurisdiction of the offices change, so check the MSPB website for the most up-to-date information. Pay attention to every detail on...

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MSPB Appeal Process and How to Get Started

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is the quasi-judicial agency responsible for overseeing the federal merit system. This system establishes rules and procedures related to the hiring, firing, and promotion of federal employees. The MSPB appeal process is an important part of federal employment because it provides a process for employees who have suffered certain kinds of adverse employment action to seek remedies. Below is an overview of the MSPB Appeal Process as well as a helpful infographic. The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing focuses on helping federal employees resolve a variety of issues related to their federal employment. If you’ve been fired, suffered from discrimination, retaliation, or otherwise faced workplace issues, we can help you file your claim with the appropriate federal agency. The MSPB Appeal Process In general, the MSPB appeal process is very similar to what you would experience during a lawsuit. Instead of a trial, however, the parties ultimately present their cases during a hearing before an administrative judge. The eight major steps in the process are outlined below. 1. The Employee Files the MSPB Appeal Technically, the first step in the process occurs when a federal agency makes a personnel decision that negatively affects the employee. The MSPB most commonly hears these kinds of cases, which include suspensions of 15 days or more, terminations, and demotions. After such an action is sustained, the federal employee may file a formal appeal with the MSPB. Employees can file appeals online through the MSPB’s e-Appeal Online service. Generally, employees must complete this step within 30 days of the adverse action prompting the appeal. However there are exceptions, such as adverse actions taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs under § 714, which shorten this deadline. This is just one of many deadlines that will come up during the process. Hiring a federal employment lawyer will ensure that you don’t miss any of these crucial deadlines. 2. Judge Assignment and Acknowledgement Order Within a few days or weeks of the initial filing, the case will be assigned to an administrative law judge (ALJ). The judge issues a document called an Acknowledgement Order. This order creates a timeline for the case and provides certain instructions about what each party must do next. 3. The Agency Responds to Appeal Shortly after the ALJ issues the Acknowledgement Order, the federal agency must provide a file of their case to the judge and the employee. This file contains the agency’s initial response along with other documents relevant to the case. 4. Status Conferences After receiving the agency file, the ALJ schedules one or more status conferences. At these conferences, the parties discuss the issues involved in the case, including any potential settlement or mediation efforts. It is possible that an MSPB case will end here if the parties reach an agreement. If the parties are engaging in settlement talks, the ALJ may order a case suspension. This suspension freezes the proceedings while the parties complete certain tasks. Case suspensions usually last 30 days, and the administrative law judge has discretion to grant a 30-day extension if necessary. With regard to settlement, the parties may mutually agree to one of the MSPB’s mediation programs, such as the MSPB’s Mediation Appeals Program (MAP). Once both parties upload the signed MAP election forms, the appeal is taken off the docket pending the outcome of settlement negotiations.  5. Discovery Just like in a trial, the parties engage in a discovery period to gather information in support of their case. In addition to documents, audio, or video, the parties may obtain sworn testimony through depositions. Other than the hearing, this may be the most important step in the process because it offers the employee the chance to obtain relevant evidence directly from the federal agency. 6. The Parties Provide Pre-Hearing Submissions and Attend Pre-Hearing Conferences In the MSPB Appeal Process, the hearing is where the parties present their cases before the ALJ. Before the hearing, each party will provide information about the documents and witnesses they plan to use. This information makes up the “pre-hearing submissions.” During the pre-conference hearing, the judge may do several things: Explain the MSPB appeal process to the parties; Facilitate discovery; Identify and narrow down the relevant issues; Obtain certain agreements between the parties (called “stipulations”); Discuss the possibility of settlement; and Rule on the admissibility and relevance of witnesses and exhibits. During these preliminary hearings, the parties have a chance to provide support for the evidence and witnesses they wish to use. A large part of this step involves challenging and demonstrating a basis for the chosen evidence. 7. The Parties Present Their Cases at a Hearing Usually lasting one to several days, the hearing is very similar to what you’d see in a courtroom. The parties may perform examination and cross-examination of any witnesses, present exhibits, and other information to support their side of the appeal. At the end, the parties may also provide closing statements, either before the judge or in writing submitted for the record. 8. The Administrative Law Judge Issues a Decision After the hearing, the ALJ will review the evidence in the record and issue a final written decision. This can take anywhere from two to six weeks, or longer, depending on the complexity of the case. What Comes After the MSPB Appeal Process? After the administrative judge issues a final decision, the parties have the opportunity to file another appeal if the decision is adverse to them. This appeal is known as a Petition for Review, and must be filed within 35 days of the date of issuance of the administrative judge’s final order. The three Board members of the MSPB review these petitions and issue a final decision. A petition for review may also be filed online. If the MSPB’s initial or final decision is adverse to the employee, that employee gains the right to file a complaint in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This remedy is available only after the...

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